A district health board chief executive under investigation for unexplained work expenses failed to attend up to six days of official business while in America.

Waikato DHB chief executive Dr Nigel Murray claimed nearly $9000 for expenses on a trip to America in March 2015.

The Weekend Herald understands the trip was meant to include a visit to a healthcare organisation in Seattle followed by the Medical Home Summit Conference in Philadelphia which was being attended by a group of other health professionals.

However, Murray did not make any of the site visits or attend the conference, despite being in the United States during that time, and concerns at his no-show were raised with Waikato District Health Board chairman Bob Simcock after everyone returned.


Murray said he was conducting other business on behalf of the DHB at the same time 35 New Zealand health professionals went to the March 18-20 Group Health visit and on to the March 23-25 conference in Philadelphia.

One of the delegates, who did not want to be named, said Murray did not fly out from Auckland with the group as planned.

"Nigel was supposed to be with us but he didn't show. Apparently there was some sort of crisis that delayed his departure."

An itinerary prepared for people attending the conference and site visits, seen by the Weekend Herald, has Murray's name as a member of a group flying out of Auckland on March 17. It also details who he was sharing a rental car with and who he would share accommodation with. However he wasn't on the flight, didn't stay in the shared accommodation or use the rental car.

Waikato District Health Board chief executive Dr Nigel Murray failed to show up at a US medical conference despite being in the country at the time. Photo / Christine Cornege
Waikato District Health Board chief executive Dr Nigel Murray failed to show up at a US medical conference despite being in the country at the time. Photo / Christine Cornege

Murray's expenses for 2015, published on the DHB's website, show he travelled to Los Angeles and San Francisco on March 19 to 31 for an "IS strategy development visit".

It says a return airfare, accommodation and rental car cost taxpayers $8929 - but doesn't specify any further details.

"I thought it was strange really," the source said of the absence from the trip. "There was no explanation. No apology. He just didn't show up."

But Murray said he was in the US to meet with IT firm HealthTap to advance potential opportunities as part of the DHB's virtual health strategy, including speaking to related virtual technology experts.


"At the same time there were two other opportunities at events including one in Philadelphia, co-ordinated by Hamilton-based PHO (primary health organisation) Midland Health Network.

"It was my intention to attend the meetings but unfortunately it was not possible within the timeframe. There was no cost to the DHB for not attending them."

Murray met with one of the New Zealand delegates in San Francisco to discuss the outcome of those meetings and "possible strategic opportunities for our two organisations".

It's understood Murray had been invited on the trip months earlier and was meant to be part of a smaller group who visited a technology innovation centre at Microsoft where pre-planning was required for security.

The Weekend Herald last month revealed that concerns about Murray's spending were raised by DHB staff last year and an investigation would be launched.

Board chairman Bob Simcock said he was aware of the US trip in March 2015 and thought Murray's "programme changed" to take in talks with HealthTap.

When asked if the IS strategy development visit was part of any investigation into Murray's expenses Simcock said: "No, I can't say that at all".

In reply to written questions from Waikato-based Labour MP Sue Moroney, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said he was first alerted to concerns about Murray's expenses on June 12.

"Senior Ministry of Health staff notified me. My office was also separately advised by the chair of Waikato District Health Board by telephone," Coleman said.

When asked why it took five weeks to inform the board Simcock declined to comment.

Moroney said she was alarmed it took so long for board members to be notified given the board had its monthly meeting on June 28.

It's understood the investigation into Murray began last week and he is on leave at the moment.

Murray took up the $560,000 per year job at Waikato DHB in July 2014, coming under fire in December when the Herald revealed he had not disclosed his annual expenses for two years.

They eventually showed Murray spent $108,000 of taxpayers' money on international and domestic travel for the job, including $36,000 worth of relocation costs from his former job in Canada to Hamilton.

It's understood Murray agreed to pay back some of the expenses but it's not clear how much.

While head at Fraser Health Authority in British Columbia, Murray claimed $140,000 in expenses during an 18 month period.